The eyes are a little more intense than they were last season, as though living through the uncertainty of the NBA lockout made him grow up just a little bit faster. John Wall would be the first to agree.
Set to begin his second season as the Washington Wizards’ point guard, Wall sees himself as a seasoned veteran and says he’s ready to lead on and off the court.
“My confidence is sky-high right now,” Wall said. “The way I played this summer, I know it wasn’t serious games in the NBA, but it was against NBA-type players, but it was just mainly getting my confidence back and getting back healthy.”
Confidence will be key, since Wall intends to take the Wizards to the postseason.
“I just want to play in the playoffs. It [doesn’t] get better than playing in the playoffs,” Wall said. “I went to playoff games last year, and it’s exciting seeing them play and see how different the atmosphere is in the games. It’s not fun just sitting there in the stands.”
Wall’s increased intensity already was evident, as he led a five-on-five scrimmage on Verizon Center’s practice court Monday. Players and coaches still are unable to interact until training camp begins Dec. 9, so trainer Joe Connelly was running the practice.
But Wall was running the show.
Joining Wall were rookie teammates Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack, along with Andray Blatche, Hamady Ndiaye and Larry Owens. Trevor Booker also showed up to watch and be treated for a bruised right quadricep he suffered playing in Israel.
The Wizards were 23-59 in 2010-11; a season Wall said he knew was going to be difficult. This year, he’s expecting many changes, from himself and his teammates.
“I knew it was going to be hard because most of those guys [are] veterans,” Wall said of his opponents at the point guard spot. “They knew what to do and how to play the game, and when you’re a rookie, they’re especially going to attack you. They want to see if you belong here. I knew what to expect. They just played better at times, and they knew the game better than me.”
Like coach Flip Saunders, Wall says he’s expecting the same maturity and focus from his teammates that he demands from himself. The comments were specifically directed at Nick Young and JaVale McGee, whose YouTube cinnamon challenge video caused Saunders to state “that doesn’t cut it,” during his news conference Friday.
“I don’t know what they got going on,” Wall said of Young and McGee. “They got their own little stories, and their own little movies and they rap sometimes during the season. Basically, as long as they’re being serious and doing the right things and not playing around when its game time or when we’re having a meeting or on the road, anything like that, that’s all I can really focus on.”
But Young’s presence on the team this season still is in question. Young is a restricted free agent, and Wall said he’s hoping the Wizards will bring him back.
“I think it’s important [to re-sign Young],” Wall said. “He’s somebody that can score the ball. Him and Jordan [Crawford] can do both the same thing, scoring, but whoever is coming off the bench or whoever is starting, you still need firepower off the bench that can be a big- time scorer for you, and that’s something that Nick brings.”
Wall predicted all summer that the lockout would end, and the season would start in January. He wasn’t far off.
“I said all along I thought we’d be playing by January,” Wall said. “But this is even better, having the season start on Christmas. It’s a great Christmas present for us and especially for the fans.”